By: Kayla Butts, MS, RDN, LDN Photos by: Lillian Reitz
Scrambling to find the perfect gift for your Valentine? Follow a popular lead and celebrate with chocolate! Children hand out chocolate kisses at school; colleagues share boxes filled with assorted chocolates; partners bring home chocolate-covered cherries for their significant others. It’s the undisputed treat of Valentine’s Day.
In fact, Americans will spend about $695 million buying 58 million pounds of chocolate candies in the days preceding Feb. 14. So, the question asks itself: How did chocolate become synonymous with Valentine’s Day?
The treat’s romantic reputation started over three centuries ago. Historians long believed chocolate was first cultivated by the Mayans of South America, but more recent archeological evidence traces its origins to the Olmecs of southern Mexico. Traces of chocolate found in Olmec pottery date back to 1500 BC.
The Mayan and Aztec cultures ground cacao beans and mixed them into a thickened drink to be shared by the bride and groom at wedding celebrations. Chocolate became so lauded for its aphrodisiac properties that Montezuma II consumed gallons of cacao to maintain his libido. To Montezuma’s credit, chocolate does contain phenylethylamine and tryptophan, two amino acids associated with love and desire. Unfortunately, chocolate is not considered a significant source of either stimulant.
Chocolate solidified its reign in the romance department in 1831. The English candy company Cadbury released a red, heart-shaped box around St. Valentine’s Day. Consumers loved the iconic boxes, using them to store letters, keepsakes and trinkets long after their confections were consumed. Candy manufacturers everywhere adopted the idea and heart-shaped boxes have become a symbol of Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate lovers need not limit themselves to candy; decadent chocolate desserts top the list of after-dinner sweets on Valentine’s Day. No matter how you choose to celebrate, everyone can agree, Valentine’s is sweeter with a little chocolate.
Makes one 9-inch cake
This chocolate cake with apricot filling was created by Franz Sacher for an Austrian prince in 1832. The original recipe has been kept a secret for almost three centuries. Poking small holes in the cake allows the characteristic apricot preserves to soak into the sponge, creating a cake as moist as it is decadent.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 45-50 minutes
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup castor sugar
8 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 vanilla bean pod
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups apricot preserves
1/4 cup amaretto liqueur
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Sift together the flour and salt and set aside.
Cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar until pale and aerated, about 1-2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla bean. Gradually stir in the chocolate. Mix in the sifted dry ingredients, until just combined.
Whip the egg whites to soft peak. Slowly add the remaining sugar and whip to full peak. Fold the egg whites into the batter in thirds, mixing just until there are no streaks of egg white visible.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Level out the top of the cake with a spatula and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn the cake out onto a cooling rack. Let sit until cooled. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally into two layers. Prick the tops of the cakes with a fork.
Assembly: In a small saucepan, stir the amaretto liqueur into the apricot preserves. Cook over medium heat until just beginning to bubble.
Place the bottom layer of cake onto your serving plate. Spread 1/3 of the apricot mixture onto the bottom layer and place the top layer onto the cake.
Strain the remaining apricot-amaretto mixture to remove any large pieces of apricot and use the strained liquid to ice the top and sides of the cake.
Microwave the chocolate with the butter for 30 seconds, or until both are melted and smooth when stirred. Pour chocolate over the cake, using a small spatula to fill in any gaps. Allow the glaze to set for about 30 minutes prior to serving.
Molten Chocolate Cake
Makes four 6oz cakes
Prep time: 7 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
1/2 cup unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup castor sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place four 6-ounce ramekins on a baking sheet and spray them with non-stick baking spray (alternately, you can grease ramekins with a thin layer of butter and a dusting of all-purpose flour).
Melt the butter with the chocolate by microwaving for 30-second intervals. Stir the mixture between sessions in the microwave until smooth. In a medium bowl or standing mixer, beat the eggs with the egg yolks, sugar and salt at high speed until thickened and pale.
Quickly fold the melted chocolate and flour into the egg mixture. Spoon batter into the prepared ramekins and bake for 10 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes are firm but the centers are soft.
Let the cakes cool in the ramekins for 1 minute, then cover each with an inverted dessert plate. Carefully turn each one over, let stand for 10 seconds and then unmold. Serve immediately, dusted with confectioner’s sugar or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Chocolate Hazelnut Trifle
Makes 1 large trifle
Prep time: 10 minutes
9-inch pan of chocolate brownies,
store-bought or prepared
Chocolate hazelnut mousse
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
8 oz mascarpone, at room temperature
2 tbsp hazelnut liqueur
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup whipping cream, chilled
Brownies: Prepare brownies as directed on box and let cool. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
Chocolate hazelnut mousse: In a medium bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer, whip cream on high speed until medium stiff peaks form. Gently fold in chocolate hazelnut spread until well incorporated.
Mascarpone cream: In a medium bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer, whip cream on high speed until medium stiff peaks form. Transfer whipped cream to a separate bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl (or your standing mixer) and beat until creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture ½ cup at a time until incorporated.